Hurricane Ian hits Cuba en route to Florida

HAVANA (AP) — A strengthening rain and winds from Hurricane Ian were lashing Cuba’s western tip, where authorities have evacuated 50,000 people, as it turned into a major Category 3 storm early Tuesday, roaring in a path that could see that he could hit Florida’s West Coast as a Category 4 hurricane.

The storm made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province early Tuesday, where officials set up 55 temporary shelters, rushed in emergency personnel and took action to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region. The US National Hurricane Center said the island’s west coast could see up to 15 feet (4.3 meters) of storm surge.

“Cuba expects extreme hurricane-force winds, also life-threatening storm surges and heavy rains,” senior hurricane center specialist Daniel Brown told The Associated Press.

After crossing Cuba, Ian was expected to strengthen further over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Florida as a Category 4 storm with peak winds of 145 mph as early as Wednesday.

On Monday, Tampa and St. Petersburg appeared the likeliest targets for its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

“Please take this storm seriously. It’s the real deal. This is not an exercise,” Hillsborough County emergency management director Timothy Dudley said Monday at a news conference about storm preparations in Tampa.

In Havana on Monday, fishermen hauled their boats out of the water along the famous Malecon seafront boulevard and city workers cleared storm drains from expected rain.

Havana resident Adyz Ladron said he was worried about the possibility of water rising from the storm.

“I’m very scared because my house is going to be completely flooded, with water reaching here,” he said, pointing to his chest.

In El Fanguito in Havana, a slum near the Almendares River, residents packed what they could to leave their homes.

“I hope we escape this one, because it would be our end. We already have so little,” said health worker Abel Rodrigues.

The Hurricane Center said in an update at 4:30 a.m. EDT (0830 GMT) that Ian made landfall in Cuba as it continued to strengthen, with sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The center defines a major hurricane as a Category 3 storm or higher, meaning maximum sustained winds of at least 110 mph (178 km/h), and Ian became a Category 3 hurricane early Tuesday.

The center said that “significant impacts from wind and storm surges” were expected in western Cuba on Tuesday morning.

Ian will not linger over Cuba, but will slow and widen and strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico, “which will have the potential to generate significant wind and storm surge effects along the west coast of Florida,” the hurricane center said.

Floods of up to 10 feet of seawater and 10 inches of rain were forecast for the Tampa Bay area, with up to 15 inches in remote areas. That’s enough water to inundate coastal communities.

In Hillsborough County alone, up to 300,000 people could be evacuated from low-lying areas, District Administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations began Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other places opening as emergency shelters.

“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Time is of the essence,” Wise said.

Floridians queued for hours in Tampa to collect sandbags and clear shelves of bottled water. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, warning that Ian could lash large areas of the state, shutting off power and disrupting fuel supplies as it swirls north off the state’s Gulf Coast.

“You have a significant storm that potentially becomes a Category 4 hurricane,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “It will cause a huge storm surge. You will have flood events. You will have many different effects.”

DeSantis said the state has suspended tolls in the Tampa Bay area and mobilized 5,000 Florida State National Guard troops with another 2,000 on standby in neighboring states.

President Joe Biden also declared a state of emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect life and property. Because of the storm, the president postponed a planned Tuesday trip to Florida.

To be on the safe side, NASA planned to slowly roll its moon rocket from the launch pad to its hangar at Kennedy Space Center, delaying the test flight by weeks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that the football team will be moving football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buccaneers said the team will leave Tampa Tuesday.

Flash flooding was forecast for much of the Florida peninsula, and heavy rains were possible in the southeastern United States later this week. With tropical storm winds stretching 185 kilometers from Ian’s center, clocks covered the Florida Keys to Lake Okeechobee.


Associated press staff include Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Fla., Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Fla., and Julie Walker in New York.

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Russell Falcon

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